We all hear horror stories about pets suffering, dying or being lost in transit aboard aircraft. I have heard people tell tales of pets collapsing from heat exhaustion or dying of dehydration, freezing to death or becoming ill. Some say that airlines will not allow pets to travel below certain temperatures, implying that there might not be complete temperature control in the animal hold. I do not know the specifics of these cases, but the tellers are convinced and I have to address these fears frequently.

I once shipped a rescued cat across the country to my dear friend, Angie, who is also a vet. She had lost her precious cat, Simon, to cancer and when I came across this lovely and friendly white kitten, I knew he should be California dreaming! After hearing all the stories, I was very nervous for baby Ben who was not a tiny kitten anymore at the time, but certainly needed to be transported with care.

When I called the airline, the attendant (an animal lover herself) assured me that Ben would be handled with the utmost love. She was true to her word because Ben arrived in California none the worse for the wear and there he lives to this day.

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If you need to travel with your pet or ship her, here are some things that you can do to help offset potential pitfalls of air travel for your pet.

1.  Call the airline. Their staff can help you with the individual recommendations and guidelines for that airline. They can tell the specifics of what is and is not allowed or recommended and prepare you for the needed paperwork, health certificates and Rabies certificate.

2.  Plan ahead. Plan the transit in enough time to allow you to buy any necessary gear and gather any required paperwork. Some airlines may have limited pet space and being pressed for time may force you to compromise on first choices.

3.  No sedative drugs. I never recommend sedation for a traveling pet. It could render the pet less responsive and no one would know if it was an expected side effect of the medication or the pet was in distress. Groggy pets could fall more easily or even choke in the event of travel sickness.

4.  Ask questions. This is what I did. I asked the airline representative if she would allow her pet to fly in this way and she assured me that she would and had. There are irresponsible people in the world, but most people would never see an animal misused. Just make sure that there will be someone checking.

5.  Make sure your pet is healthy enough for travel. Your vet is the best place to start and a health certificate will be required for transport anyway.

In light of the bad press these isolated cases receive, most airlines have become ever more sensitized about animal care during transit. The Department of Transportation has enacted stricter reporting policies about pets lost or injured in flight. No one wants a hurt or lost animal. A few proactive actions on your part and everyone can arrive safe and sound.

If you have a story about travel with your pet, good or bad, please share it. I want to hear from you. Others can learn from your experience.


Dr. Kathryn Primm is a veterinarian and author. Her first book is Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People, and you can visit her author site at http://www.drprimm.com/